Noel Gallagher and your friend who got into soccer when he started playing FIFA five years ago can rest easy: Barring some kind of extraterrestrial event, Manchester City is going to win its first Premier League trophy of the Pep Guardiola Era. While there won’t be a title race, there’s still plenty of excitement in store for the second half of the campaign. So, before the holiday fixture list kicks off and every team outside of London plays an inhuman number of games in a two-week span while the rest of Europe gives its clubs some much-needed R&R, it’s time to make some predictions for the rest of the season.
Both Manchester United and Chelsea Will Miss Out on the Champions League
Ryan O’Hanlon: The Premier League isn’t fair. Of course, it’s fairer than its counterparts in Germany and Spain, but there’s a Big Six, and within that Big Six there’s an Even Bigger Three. Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea make up three of the four most expensive rosters in the world, and together, they’ve won all but one of the Premier League titles awarded since 2005.
According to some estimates, Manchester City have the most expensive soccer team ever assembled, but at least they’re matching it with a breathtaking onfield product that’s halfway toward shattering every Premier League record. As for the others—well, that’s it? Really? United are allowing more shots per game than Crystal Palace, who lost the first seven games of the season, and Huddersfield, who play in a stadium that can’t even fit 25,000 people. As for Chelsea, the quality of their attack is more Watford and less “team that spent €62 million on a single striker this past summer.” In other words, Chelsea and United have settled into the no. 2 and 3 spots in the table through some kind of magic and/or unsustainable goal-scoring, goalkeeping, and managerial maneuvering. Per expected goals, which measures the quality of the shots a team takes and concedes rather than looking at the outcome, United’s goal differential should be closer to plus-10 than plus-27, while Chelsea’s should be right around plus-11 rather than plus-18. Despite lower points totals, Tottenham, Arsenal, and Liverpool all have been significantly better at creating and limiting chances than either of those two sides. In a 38-game season, that’s how to win enough games to finish in the top four.
Money can buy you a lot of things, but unless God decides he’s a capitalist, luck won’t ever be one of them.
Manchester City Will Not Be the New Invincibles
Donnie Kwak: We already know that City’s going to run away with the league, so we can only hope that the Pep Boys catch a flat along the way. There are two holy grails left: the “Invincibles” tag for matching Arsenal’s 2003-04 unbeaten Premier League season and the Champions League trophy. I predict City will fail to attain either, because I am a hater (and also because Guardiola’s petrol-fueled prima donnas don’t deserve to breathe the same rarified air as Arsène Wenger’s band of beautiful aesthetes).
At the start of Arsenal’s famous 2003-04 campaign, Wenger said: “It wouldn't surprise me if we were to go unbeaten for the whole of the season.” Expectations were raised, and eventually fulfilled. Meanwhile, this season Wet Blanket Guardiola has coyly insisted that his team will lose at least one Premier League match. Well, let me put a date on that for you, Pep: January 14, against Liverpool at Anfield. You may recall that the first time these two teams met, on September 9 at the Etihad, City were clinging to a 1-0 lead when Liverpool’s Sadio Mané was sent off for a karate kick to Ederson’s face in the 37th minute. Game ruined, then over. Not this time around. City’s streak ends at Anfield (two goals from Mohamed Salah, who will abuse Fabian Delph), and Arsenal’s Invincibles will walk alone.
Actually, Manchester City Will Be the New Invincibles
Shaker Samman: Let’s start with the facts: Manchester City has played 18 Premier League games this season. They’ve won 17 and drawn once. They’ve scored 56 goals and allowed just 12. They’ve won all five games they’ve played against the top six and outscored those top flight opponents 15-3. If you add up goals and assists, they have six of the top 11 point-getters in the Premier League. They can (and will) beat you, and they’ll look damn good doing it.
Manchester City won’t lose a single Premier League game in the 2017-18 season. If you give them space, they can beat you with football so Total it’d make Johan Cruyff blush. If you pack it in, they’ll they can rout you with free kicks. They play ugly better than the ugliest teams and pretty better than the prettiest. The only thing that can possibly slow them down is injuries and even then, they’ve still held strong. When left back Benjamin Mendy ruptured his ACL, Fabian Delph, who is a midfielder, stepped in and started playing the best football of his life. If Delph goes down, Danilo will be there to take his place. City is a hydra. If you cut off one head, two will replace it. They could win every other game they play this season and finish with 112 points. Or they could draw their next 20 matches and still be on pace to finish in the top four. The point is this: City hasn’t shown any weaknesses. And unless one appears before the season ends, no one will stop them after 90 minutes.
Everton Will finish Ahead of at Least One So-Called "Big Six" Team
Michael Baumann: “Beautiful soccer” sucks. Jurgen Klopp's pressing regime has not turned human hamstrings into points at a high enough rate to contend for a title at Liverpool, while Spurs are back in regions of the Premier League table they haven't seen since Juande Ramos was in charge, and the less said about Arsenal, the better. Manchester City, of course, might be the best Premier League team ever, having all but wrapped up the title by mid-December, and Pep Guardiola is feelin' it. Guardiola, like most people whose success comes mostly from immense financial might provided by other people, thinks his teams are not only better athletically, but morally as well. So great is Guardiola's God complex that he's taken to haranguing opposing teams for not playing in a style that suits him—a sentiment that requires boundless arrogance to even think, much less utter out loud.
“Beautiful soccer,” within the game, is the Prosperity Gospel—rich people finding ways to retcon moral superiority onto wealth and power. Outside the game, at least over here, it's a shibboleth for pretentious Americans who say “supporter” instead of “fan” and pretend to find it entertaining when 11 expensively coiffed men dipsy-doodle aimlessly around midfield for 90 minutes, because otherwise Europeans might not think you're smart, or something.
No more. The emperor has no clothes. It's time to end “O jogo bonito,” and there's one man to do it, the last righteous man in the Premier League.
Sam Allardyce understands that winning is more important than impressing the likes of Pep and his army of sycophants. That beautiful things can, and frequently should, be destroyed, and by such snarling jar-headed heroes like Wayne Rooney, who leads the way for the most talented club squad Allardyce has ever had to manage. Everton's won three of four in all competitions under Big Sam, the lone exception a draw away to heavily favored archrivals Liverpool. They're already back into the top half after looking like candidates for relegation well into November. Look what Big Sam's accomplished in less than one month, and imagine the wonders that lay within his reach over the next five.
Actually, It’s Burnley Who’s Gonna Break Into the Top Six
Micah Peters: Stranger things have happened as recently as two years ago. Leicester City didn’t do much, save for the things that they were supposed to do (aside from conceding about 24 goals by this time that season), all while every other outwardly Big Six side seemed to spear themselves on really bad luck. This is not to diminish Leicester winning the league a year after being promoted, or with Kasper Schmeichel in goal, it’s just to illustrate that Burnley finishing ahead of maybe Tottenham isn’t 100-percent out of the question. Like Leicester, they’re more than meets the eye: They give up plenty of shots (but they’re shots of low quality), they always seem to be in the way, and when chances present themselves on the opposite end, they don’t think too much about taking them. They beat Chelsea 3-2 at Stamford Bridge on opening day and they’ve been impressive since then. If it’s just luck and it’s been around this long, I feel safe betting on it continuing on into the spring.